In Baltimore, “The City that Reads” I could not find a place to read my novel. I finished the final draft of the novel five years ago while living in an apartment in Charles Village near the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. I finally, though, did find a place to read: the sidewalk. Perhaps this is appropriate since so much of the real business of Baltimore City is conducted on the street.
If you are in Baltimore, Ill be reading at 12:30 in the afternoon on the sidewalk at the intersection of N Charles and W University Parkway in Charles Village (1 W University Pky, Baltimore, MD 21218), Tuesday October 4th.
The height of this onerous process was my correspondence with the anarchist collective bookstore, Red Emmas. In my hometown of Seattle Ive participated in several collective bookstores of the feminist and anarchist persuasion. Left Bank Books by the waterfront with her creaking floorboards and yellowed labor manifestos often features readings by poets and novelists in addition to lectures and talks. The press that published my book, Clear Cut Press, operates through collective action. However, in order to approach Red Emmas I need to send an application, following the correct process and justification of why this book means anything to anyone who cares about anything. I sent my application along to their events coordinator. This process was far more organized and than the one employed by the decidedly anti-anarchic Borders Books & Music Regional Manager of Annapolis. The Red Emma committee met, but no one would tell me what the committee decided until I applied for a response from the events coordinator who was in charge of responses to applications to perform.
On the receipt of my request for a response, I eventually received this note:
I apologize for the time it has taken me to respond. The collective discussed your event proposal and felt that it would not be a good match for our store. Most of our events are political in nature, or reflect important social issues. This is integral to the mission of the collective.
At first I was confused but then I remembered the directions in “The Dummy’s Guide to Starting an Anarchist Collective.” Imaginative literature and anarchism do not mix. There is an amusing piece in this guide in which DuChamp, Andre Breton and Arthur Rimbaud are stripped of their anarchist laurels. These men are entertainers and are workers in an organized industry, the guide contends. Remember the dictum, “Make it New,” could easily be condensed to “Make New.” “New” being a commodity essentially indistinguishable from soap, pork bellies, or M&Ms.
Although Red Emmas was my first choice of a place to read in Baltimore, every single scheme to find a place to read indoors in Baltimore encountered a baroque mix of protocol and inaction.
A query to my alma matter, Johns Hopkins where I graduated from the Writing Seminars, was turned down finally be Dave Smith the department chair. He said they couldn’t “give me a reading,” as if as reading was a gift. Dear sir, we give you the right to stand in front of people and sweat. Few writers I know actually like to read in public. Johns Hopkins had scheduled their gifts of standing and sweating months ago. Readings proposed within six months of the event, the implication was, did not provide adequate time to process.
The regional manager at Borders Books & Music didn’t see the relevance of a book set in the Pacific Northwest for audiences in Baltimore. Oddly, people in New York and Baltimore do not hesitate to see the relevance of books set in Baltimore or New York for audiences in the Pacific Northwest.
Normals Books houses a reading series (they were quick to point out not affiliated with the bookstore, the Red Room). Despite being a welcome home to performance artists from the Oregon Territory such as Dan Raphael and Willie Smith only have one reading a month. The event was booked sometime in mid-2002. Would I be around in 2007? Will the room be open sometime in early October? I asked. We have a reading in the month of October, they said.
Atomic Books. No response.
The University of Baltimore would normally be open to something but they are already doing a reading of printed matter the first week of October. They can’t have two events in one week involving printed matter. I’ll perform, I said. No one needs to know it was written. Did I stutter? they asked. No.
Finally I did find a place in Baltimore that would give me a reading. The street. I’m going to read on the sidewalk on October 4th at 12:30 at the intersection of N Charles and W University Parkway to the statues of Confederate War Widows. My book is about hippies and the dissolution of their attempt to reinvent society because they based their utopia on marijuana. I will commiserate with them about utopian dreams gone wrong because these dreams were based on a cracked foundation.